Where are voices of young people in social dialogue? 

Source: Where are voices of young people in social dialogue? | The Herald September 11, 2019

Hopolang Phororo Correspondent
Dialogue is the buzzword in Zimbabwe and has been a regular headline in various forms of media. Phrases such as political dialogue, inclusive dialogue, all-inclusive dialogue, social dialogue, open dialogue, honest dialogue and national dialogue  keep popping up. However, buzzwords on the voices of young people in these dialogues is missing and, yet, this is what should be making headlines.

With an increasing number of young people in precarious jobs in the informal economy and the erosion of safety nets, how does the future of work look like?

Their voices on these issues and on discussions around Vision 2030 and on the next four- or five-year development plan are crucial because they will be the ones implementing the outcomes. Many of us, who are 50 plus will no longer be in the labour force in 2030. Young people must be afforded the opportunity and skills to discuss issues that affect them. We need to keenly listen to them, particularly with regards to the dialogue on the future of work.

The call for dialogue, in whatever form suggests that something is amiss and people are not talking or communicating with one another, as they should. The most topical issue for dialogue is on the difficult socio-economic situation; the austerity measures by Government and the challenges facing all sectors and the entire population, including young people. Although views differ on what needs to be done to address the challenges, there is consensus that the solutions should emerge from inclusive dialogue and this is enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which highlights the need to “. . .  involve the people in the formulation and implementation of development plans and programmes that affect them”.

Social dialogue that seeks to broadly realise social justice is the bedrock upon which the International Labour Organisation (ILO) was founded, a hundred years ago in 1919, as part of the dialogue to end World War 1. Over the years, it has become an effective means to promote consensus building and democratic involvement among the main stakeholders in the world of work.

The understanding of social dialogue differs, so it is important to define it. Social dialogue includes all types of negotiation, consultation or simply the exchange of information between, or among, representatives of governments, employers and workers and others, on issues of common interest relating to economic and social policy.

The enabling conditions for social dialogue are (i) strong, independent workers’ and employers’ organisations with the technical capacity and the access to relevant information to participate in social dialogue; (ii) political will and commitment to engage in social dialogue on the part of all the parties; (iii) respect for the fundamental rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining; and (iv) appropriate institutional support.

The ILO promotes social dialogue because it works.

Effective social dialogue structures and processes have the potential to address important social and economic issues, encourage good governance, enhance industrial and social peace and stability and boost economic progress.

Examples exist in countries such as South Africa, Tunisia and Bulgaria where social dialogue worked.

This year in June, the Government of Zimbabwe signed into law the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) Act, which provides in law, the structure or institution and hopefully, practice to ensure the effective participation of all key stakeholders.

Now, the real work begins and if the dialogue is going to be inclusive, it must ensure that besides the workers, employers and Government, other actors that we need to pay closer attention to include those in the informal economy, women and young people.

We often forget to keep a seat for them at the table, where decisions are made.

Too often young people have been excluded from engaging on social dialogue platforms.

In most instances, because of other prejudices, including the lack of jobs and effective representation, member-based organisations representing young people are few in number and even when they exist, the question that arises is which youth do they represent?

Not much has been done to support the formation of such member-based organisations, possibly driven by the fear that organised youth can be a powerful force for change.

However, in Zimbabwe, this is a group that we cannot afford to ignore, noting that they constitute 70 percent of the population.

This presents an opportunity — to harness the youth demographic dividend, if effective policies can be achieved that are aimed at generating full, productive and freely chosen employment and decent work opportunities for all.

Uneducated and unproductive young people represent wasted potential and it is incumbent upon a country to create an enabling environment to effectively engage them and to facilitate the transition from education and training to work, with an emphasis on the effective integration of young people into the world of work.

Noting the profound changes in the nature of work that are happening, including technological advances; demand for new skills; the greening of our economies; changes in demographics — increasing youth and ageing populations — a new social contract is needed for the next century.

Part of the challenge is what it will look like? An inclusive discussion at country level is required to explore how to improve the quality of working lives, expand choice, close the gender gap, reverse the damages wreaked by global inequality, and much more.

As the ILO Director-General Guy Ryder aptly puts it: “We will not stand back and avoid that which scares us. We will move towards the future and its challenges.”

The future of work presents several opportunities for young people and there is no better time but now to invest in them to effectively engage in social dialogue. We must support them to set up credible member-based organisations that will represent youth across the wide spectrum and not just a selected few.

This will facilitate their membership to such platforms, as the TNF, where their voices can be heard and they can contribute towards ensuring that the future they want becomes a reality.

Hopolang Phororo, ILO Country Office Director for Zimbabwe and Namibia